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Nov 25, 2013

Review: Blancanieves (2013)

           Maribel Verdu, Macarena Garcia, Sofia Oria, Angela Molina, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Inma Cuesta, Josep Maria Pou, Ramon Barea, Pere Ponce and Emilio Gavira

                   Pablo Berger

                 We have been seeing lots of trends in filmmaking these past few years. Two of the most prominent ones include the black & white throwback and the other one, re-imagination of Snow White fairy tale. The former I always welcome if it is used in a good way and not just for gimmick. Black & White films have always been such a source of cinematic significance. So it is great that filmmakers are taking such risks to incorporate such stylistic choices in their work. Most of such films were less about what it used to be back then, the by-gone era and more about contemporary world as seen through that filter. On the other hand, this sudden urge to re-imagine fairy tales, specially Snow White is beyond me. But then Hollywood filmmakers have been out of ideas or just too lazy to come up with something original so they are just trying to make everything 'dark' these days. Add the word 'dark' to your movie or make everything look like "Game of Thrones" and you have a supposed winner in your hand. It is insane! While "Snow White and the Huntsman" was bad, bloated, boring fantasy. "Mirror Mirror" was cheeky, silly but fun feature. But it took a Spanish visionary to mix B&W with Snow White fairy tale yet somehow come up with an entirely unique, fresh and brilliant approach altogether. The word 'Blancanieves' literally means Snow White in Spanish and it is a black and white fantasy drama that not only has those two important elements but presents an entirely new spin on the famous Brothers Grimm tale, as well as it paints a beautiful picture of a particular time and place and ends up giving a superb nod to the cinema of that time. Pablo Berger takes us in places we wont have ever imagined or thought of otherwise. The romanticism and exotic brilliance found in Andalusia of the 20's to a tragic and heartbreaking story of a girl, her mother and father to dark, twisted and gothic tale of what happens to her. There is flamenco, music, magic, S&M, chicken... you just name it.

                 Antonio Valletta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is a renowned and a champion bullfighter. Known, well-regarded and praised for his skills and considered a hero in Seville. An incident happens with the bull and he is brought to the hospital in horrible condition. At the same time, we see that his wife is set to give birth to a child but she dies during the procedure. A baby is born, Carmencita or Snow White. Women were crazy to marry Antonio anyway because of his status and charms but the death of his wife gives room and the exact opportunity Encarna (Maribel Verdu) needed to get her hands on the man and his wealth. She was his nurse at first and now she is his wife, an evil one. We see Blancanieves (Sofia Oria) as she is growing up quite perfectly and very happily in the care of her grandmother Dona Concha (Angela Molina). She has a very adventurous chicken whom she loves and always indulges herself in Flamenco dancing, a legacy that runs throughout the family. Living without the direct care and sight of her father but craving to see and be with him. It is only a matter of time when she is forced to live with the evil and selfish step-mother of hers who does what she wants without giving a damn about her actions. Blancanieves is treated horribly by her as she is growing up and is not allowed to visit her father who himself is quadriplegic and bound physically and metaphorically to his weakness. She however sneaks up to his room often and has some handful of moments with her father where she either performs Flamenco in front of him or they play bullfighting and those are some really heartbreaking moments to see them happy for limited time. Carmen (Macarena Garcia) is now grown up to be a fine girl, she does most of the work in the house like a maid. Life goes on in a miserable way for her, things happen. But one day, Carmen meets five dwarfs when she is left unconscious in a river. That is a turning point for her, she gets to do what she always wanted to, carrying the legacy of her father and she becomes famous. Her new friends are somewhat is similar situation as she was, working for people who cares nothing for them but they have to survive you know.

                 Blancanieves features some very beautiful performances. First and foremost, the actress Sofia Oria who plays the young Snow White does a standout job. The innocence and the misery comes through thanks to her performance. For a young actress to deliver such a good performance in a role that is literally not as straight forward as it looks like, for her to show the sadness and loss of her family, you'll be stunned. Then we have Macarena Garcia who plays the grown up Snow White. She is of course someone whom you will see for the most part and is very comfortable and involved in her role. There isn't much praise to give to her but that she look quite good in the role. The balance of the heroism that is there in her part at that point to the vulnerable and emotional side of her that still exists after all the hardships, that comes out very well. Still, Oria does a better job and a heartbreaking one for that matter. In other roles, we have the famous actress Maribel Verdu who plays the role of Snow White's evil step mother. Now Verdu does a very good job as the villain of this film. Her eyes and her face are as evil as she is. There is nothing directly wicked about her in terms of features, she is just purely and seriously evil by nature. She wants it all and her way. As much as dead serious she seems like and probably because of the things that she does, the whole thing with her being obsessed with S&M is a nice little surprise. An amusing one! You wont expect to see any of such things in this film at first but the sight of her whipping a man and the way she is dressed up, it is very funny. I liked her performance. Daniel Gimenez Cacho does a fine job playing the father. His earlier scenes in bull fighting arena to hopelessly bound to wheelchair ones are quite good. There is Inma Cuesta in few of the scenes as the mother. You will also like the actors who plays the dwarfs. One of them falls for Snow, the other one is funny and overall, they are a nice bunch of not too silly and not too serious group of people with good hearts but difficult lives. And then last but definitely not the least, we have Angela Molina as the grandmother. Gracious and ever wonderful, charming and much needed lovable presence. As a mother figure, the guardian and of course, as a playful friend to everyone, Molina gives a very good performance.

                 Blancanieves is not a traditional Snow White tale, neither does it strives to show any royalty to the original material. Berger just inspired by those tales, goes for quite an appropriate approach in terms of the darkness which is not by deliberately making everything as bleak and dark as possible but by offering a challenging and tragic path for the lead character through her life. The cinematography is very good, the visuals are quite wonderful. The dizzying flamenco sequences to the richly captured sequences of bullfighting. They add so much energy and eccentric attributes to a film that is willing to make us experience those things as they are shown. The romanticism and atmospherics works very well to captivate us. The utter beauty and charm of the toe tapping dancing, makes you flow with those characters as well. The use of haunting and tragically beautiful music in the film helps a lot as well. The longing and the heartbreak reeks through those earlier parts with young Snow White with her grandmother, literally worshipping the idyllic legacy of her mother to recreating that notion in front of her father. Emotionally stirring as well as deeply moving. Not just the dramatics but Berger seems to be impressed by filmmakers such as Hitchcock and Browning. Why wouldn't he be? Not only did those filmmakers made the kind of films they did and are known for their work but most of their work was filled with the kind of approach Berger wanted to take for his film here so its not that difficult to see why. There is that suspense factor, some almost shocking sequences in this film are what you will find in Hitchcock's work. The tragedy undercuts and they never come off as very typical twists but another additions in the long line of sad turns that happens. So not in a conventional way but Berger really adds the Hitchcock-ian spin in certain parts. Then there is the whole gothic and eerie touch that is found in films by filmmakers such as Browning. So that too gives a unique edge to the story. Some surreal scenes and some funny moments and sheer stylistic brilliance never take away from the story that is supposed to be told but instead, they add so much to it. The experience you will have with Blancanieves is best experienced than told.

                 This is a silent feature but you wont even realize it is so thanks to the beautifully written screenplay and well picked cast. The editing is quite well and the production design, the costumes etc are very much in line of the time and period this film represents. As I said, everything here is visually stunning. Blancanieves is much more stylish, gorgeous, fun and memorable feature than others in the same line. For the time and place, the culture and customs it represents, Blancanieves is as romantically linked as one would expect. The odd but understandable touches of the erotic, macabre and eeriness further pushes the film into unfamiliar territory. Blancanieves features a very ambiguous and unsettling ending. I was kind of at loss at first, it really shocked me. Creepiest thing about it. It is melancholic and magical, a treasure to behold. Not an overall perfect film but highly admirable experiment that actually works. Kudos to Berger.

Grade: B+